Fossil fuel combustion raises serious environmental concerns, particularly from greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that total GHG emissions have increased by nearly eight percent since 1990. Fossil fuel combustion alone increased by 10 percent. While the obvious solution may be to reduce the use fossil fuels, it can have unintended environmental consequences.
Cost of Doing Business
American used nearly 20 million barrels of petroleum each day during 2010. Coal supplied over 40 percent of the nation’s energy needs in 2011. The U.S. economy, as other countries, depends upon fossil fuel supplies to exist. Some uses are obvious, such as electricity and transportation. However, petroleum, for example, serves a myriad of other purposes.
The uses of petroleum are wide and varied. The many products that depend upon petroleum include:
- Plastic goods
If the import of petroleum is reduced, the price of nearly every product you buy may go up. While most petroleum goes toward transportation, everyday life depends upon the goods that petroleum helps produce.
Effect on Recycling
Another unintended consequence of reducing fossil fuel use is its potential effects on recycling. The advantage that fossil fuels have is that they are cheap. If that source is replaced with more expensive alternative fuels, the cost of production increases.
In terms of recycling, this can mean that the cost of recycling may exceed importing new products. Plastics, after all, are a commodity with a flexible value. The recycling rate of plastics is low as it is when compared to other common waste products, such as paper. Increasing the cost of recycling can cause further strains on this market. The consequence is an increase in landfill waste.
While reducing greenhouse gas emissions is ecologically important, it can have unintended results. Simply, fossil fuel use is so entwined in everyday life. It is not just a matter of reducing emissions to protect the environment. With the global economy in its current state, increasing costs to businesses and consumers may end up causing more environmental damage that it prevents. These possible effects must be part of the equation when considering solutions for climate change.